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Do All Travel Trailers Have Brakes

Thanks to modern, well-kept roads, towing a travel trailer down a highway is now relatively easy.

Sure, you will still need to be a good driver, and if possible, have prior experience controlling heavy machinery.

But the longer your convoy, the more safeguards you will need to keep it under control.

One of the most critical safeguards here is installing a set of brakes.

Any RV or moving vehicle will have its own set of brakes – but do all travel trailers have brakes installed too?

Should you install them or upgrade them before you hit the road?

The answer is yes: the overwhelming majority of travel trailers come with either electric brakes, which you can control from your RV cabin, or hydraulic surge brakes. That being said, these brakes will differ in quality and coverage. Ideally, you should have electric brakes on both axles before the start of your trip, but some travel trailers only have them on one axle.

travel trailer brakes

How do I Know If my Travel Trailer Has Brakes

The easiest way to check for brakes on your travel trailer is to inspect the wheels.

Look for a metal rim around the top half of the wheel.

These are the brake shoes, and if you can see them, your trailer has brakes on that axle.

More importantly, you should also know which type of brakes your travel trailer has.

These can be electric or hydraulic.

In order to be sure of this, you will need to either check behind the wheel or inside the trailer hitch.

Electric brake systems should have a large magnet under the wheel.

You should be able to see a large magnet connected to the trailer’s electrical system sitting inside the wheel drum.

To check for hydraulic brake systems, look inside the trailer hitch.

If there is a large cylinder inside, then you have hydraulic brakes ready to go.

Check out: Do Travel Trailers Come with Tire Jacks

How Do the Brakes Work on a Travel Trailer

Travel trailers and campers can have hydraulic or electric brakes.

Both types do essentially the same – they clamp the wheels and prevent them from moving.

However, they achieve this by different routes.

Hydraulic brakes

Also known as surge brakes, hydraulic brakes are the most potent type of brakes.

Because of this, they are commonly used for large commercial trucks.

They can be a bit overkill for campers or travel trailers, except for very large or heavy models.

Hydraulic brakes work a lot like a standard car’s brake system.

They often have a pedal on your main cabin that helps you activate them.

This pedal connects to a cylinder filled with fluid.

When you step on the pedal, the fluid inside this cylinder is pushed out, and the force on the brakes is multiplied.

As the fluid flows toward the wheel and the brake shoes, it clamps them down. This will stop the wheels to a halt.

Hydraulic brakes are activated automatically whenever you step on the main brake pedal.

Because of this, you cannot operate them independently – they will follow the directions from the main car.

Electric brakes

Most travel trailers work with electric brakes.

These are not as powerful when handling massive loads but are usually pretty responsive for smaller vehicles, such as a standard camper.

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Electric brakes are comprised of two parts: the brake controller and the brake shoes themselves:

  • The brake controller is inside the wheel cabin with you. It usually includes a dial or an LCD panel that shows which axles are affected by the brake.
  • The brake shoes consist of a large magnet connected to a wire. The wire is then linked to the car’s main electrical system. When the brakes are engaged, it activates the magnet. Then, the magnet can attach itself to the steel drum surrounding the wheel, which halts it.

How Often Do Travel Trailer Brakes Need to Be Changed

The lifespan of your brakes will depend on how much you drive around and how often you use the vehicle.

However, sporadic use will not extend your brakes’ life indefinitely, as wear, tear, and corrosion will eventually affect them.

A good rule of thumb is to replace your brake components every 12,000 months.

You should also have them inspected at least every 12 months if you use the travel trailer sporadically.

If you are constantly using your travel trailer (at least twice per month), you should aim to check and adjust your breaks every three months.

You may also need more frequent adjustments if you have hydraulic brakes rather than electrical ones.

In addition, you should consider replacing or inspecting your brakes whenever:

  • Your manual recommends it
  • You notice brake performance is suffering
  • You are approaching the time for a mandatory inspection
  • You suffer a major accident or near-miss
  • The inner brake drum is exposed

Keeping to a consistent and thorough maintenance schedule will help you prevent accidents and may even save you money in the long run.

Can Proper Maintenance Extend Their Life

Maintenance is vital for extending the lifespan of every part of your camper, travel trailer, and RV.

Your brakes are no exception.

Frequent adjustments, combined with responsible driving, can double the lifespan of your brakes.

More importantly, however, are the safety gains of having top-notch brakes.

Do Travel Trailers Have Parking Brakes

Most travel trailers that come with a hydraulic brake system will also include additional parking brakes. However, this is not always the case.

If you continuously drive in hilly or mountainous terrain, you should consider having parking brakes installed.

On the other hand, most trailers fitted for an electric brake system do not have separate parking brakes.


Most travel trailers and campers come with separate brakes, either on both axles or only just one.

These brakes are most likely electrically powered.

Very large trailers may be required to have a hydraulic brake system.

It’s imperative to maintain or inspect your brake system regularly.

This will make your trailer safer to drive and can extend the lifespan of your brakes.

After all, handling a long convoy at fast speeds can be very difficult – and even a few seconds’ delay could cost a life.